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Exploring the Differences Between Nature Informed Therapy and Adventure Therapy

A split image showing Adventure Therapy on the left with a person rock climbing against a mountainous sunset backdrop, and Nature Informed Therapy on the right with two people exploring a forest trail and engaging with nature.
Discover the differences between Adventure Therapy and Nature Informed Therapy: Adventure Therapy focuses on challenging physical experiences while Nature Informed Therapy emphasizes building a deep, reciprocal relationship with nature.


I recently spoke at the American Experiential Education (AEE) conference, where I had an enlightening conversation with an adventure therapist. This discussion brought to light the distinct differences between Nature Informed Therapy and Adventure Therapy. While both approaches leverage the outdoors to facilitate personal growth and healing, their methodologies and underlying philosophies diverge significantly. In this blog post, I'll delve into these differences, focusing on how each modality views and utilizes the natural environment as a therapeutic tool.

Adventure Therapy: Experience as the Change Agent

Adventure Therapy is a form of experiential therapy that uses adventure-based activities, such as rock climbing, kayaking, and hiking, to foster personal growth and behavioral change. The key element in Adventure Therapy is the experience itself. Participants are often placed in challenging and novel situations that require them to confront fears, solve problems, and develop new skills.

  1. Experiential Learning: In Adventure Therapy, the therapeutic process is driven by the participants' engagement in physically and emotionally demanding activities. These experiences provide immediate feedback and opportunities for reflection, leading to personal insights and growth.

  2. Challenge and Mastery: The core therapeutic mechanism is the challenge that participants face. Overcoming these challenges builds self-efficacy, resilience, and a sense of accomplishment. The therapist facilitates this process by creating a safe environment where participants can push their boundaries.

  3. Group Dynamics: Many Adventure Therapy programs emphasize group activities, promoting teamwork, communication, and social support. The group dynamic itself becomes a powerful vehicle for change, as participants learn to trust and rely on one another.

  4. Metaphoric Learning: Activities in Adventure Therapy often serve as metaphors for real-life challenges. For example, climbing a mountain can symbolize overcoming personal obstacles, and navigating a river can represent managing life's uncertainties. These metaphors help participants draw connections between their experiences and their everyday lives.

Nature Informed Therapy: Relationship with Nature as the Change Agent

Nature Informed Therapy, on the other hand, emphasizes the relationship with nature as the primary catalyst for therapeutic change. This approach is rooted in attachment theory, reciprocity, and Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT). Nature Informed Therapy aims to create secure attachment bonds between individuals—whether partners, family members, or individuals—and the natural world.

  1. Attachment Theory: Nature Informed Therapy is based on the principles of attachment theory, which posits that secure attachments are crucial for emotional well-being. This therapy seeks to foster a secure, nurturing relationship with nature, mirroring the benefits of secure human attachments.

  2. Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT): Integrating elements of EFT, Nature Informed Therapy focuses on the emotional experiences and expressions of individuals within the natural environment. By engaging with nature in an emotionally focused way, participants can process and heal from emotional wounds, fostering greater emotional regulation and resilience.

  3. Reciprocity: The therapeutic relationship with nature is characterized by reciprocity. Participants are encouraged to interact with the natural world in a way that is mutually beneficial, fostering a sense of care and stewardship for the environment while receiving its healing benefits.

  4. Holistic Healing: The therapeutic benefits of nature are holistic, impacting the mind, body, and spirit. Nature Informed Therapy integrates elements of ecotherapy, mindfulness, and nature-based practices to create a comprehensive healing experience. Activities may include forest bathing, nature meditation, and ecological art therapy.

  5. Relational Focus: Unlike Adventure Therapy, where the emphasis is on the experience, Nature Informed Therapy focuses on building a reciprocal relationship with the natural world. This relationship is nurtured through activities that promote a sense of belonging and interconnectedness, such as planting trees, gardening, or simply spending time in nature.

  6. Environmental Stewardship: Nature Informed Therapy often incorporates elements of environmental education and stewardship. By fostering a sense of responsibility and care for the environment, participants not only benefit personally but also contribute to the well-being of the planet. This dual focus on personal and ecological health creates a unique and profound therapeutic experience.

Key Differences and Complementary Aspects

While both Adventure Therapy and Nature Informed Therapy utilize the outdoors, they differ in their approach and therapeutic mechanisms. Adventure Therapy is experience-driven, focusing on the immediate challenges and the personal growth that comes from overcoming them. Nature Informed Therapy, however, is relationship-driven, emphasizing a deep and transformative connection with the natural world, grounded in attachment theory, reciprocity, and EFT.

These differences highlight the diverse ways in which nature can be harnessed for therapeutic purposes. Adventure Therapy may be more suitable for individuals seeking to build resilience and tackle specific behavioral issues through direct and challenging experiences. In contrast, Nature Informed Therapy may appeal to those looking for a more holistic and introspective healing process that fosters a profound sense of connection and well-being.


Both Nature Informed Therapy and Adventure Therapy offer unique and powerful pathways to healing. By understanding their distinct approaches, therapists and participants can choose the modality that best aligns with their needs and therapeutic goals. Whether through the exhilaration of overcoming physical challenges or the serenity of connecting deeply with nature, the outdoors provides a rich and versatile environment for personal growth and transformation.


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